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Michael Huemer’s A Priori Defense of Metaethical Internalism

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Versions of internalism have played important roles in metaethics, for example, in defending irrealist options such as emotivism. However, internalism is itself as controversial as the views it is used to defend. Standard approaches to testing the view, such as thought experiments about amoralists, have failed to gain consensus. Michael Huemer offers a defense of internalism of a different kind which he calls the “argument from interpretation.” He presents the argument as one Humeans could embrace, but versions could be accepted by others, including Huemer himself. The argument begins from the assumption that a certain principle of charity is true and knowable a priori. But it can only be known a priori if internalism is true. Hence internalism is true. In this paper I argue that this important argument fails. My main objection makes use of recent work in empirical psychology. Huemer needs the principle of charity to be known a priori. I argue that rather than being an a priori issue, it is an empirical one and that the empirical evidence is strong enough to undermine his argument for internalism.

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  1. 1.

    A number of authors have argued that various principles of charity are empirical. For example, see Stich (1985) Thagard and Nisbett (1983) and Henderson (1987).

  2. 2.

    As a reviewer for Philosophia pointed out, it might be that one can know a priori that one is conscious without being able to know a priori all the necessary conditions for consciousness.

  3. 3.

    Philosophers have long been acquainted with such distinctions through the work of R. M Hare (1981).

  4. 4.

    For a discussion of some research on the role of first impressions specifically in politics, see Christopher Olivola and Alexander Todorov (2010).


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Correspondence to Sanford Levy.

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Levy, S. Michael Huemer’s A Priori Defense of Metaethical Internalism. Philosophia 43, 1067–1080 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11406-015-9610-x

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  • Huemer
  • Internalism
  • Externalism
  • Principle of charity